Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Review

20 Aug

It seems utterly absurd to even try and review a show after viewing what was ostensibly a dress rehearsal.  But it is indeed that very phenomenon that compels me to blather.  I have often paid to see dress rehearsals (most often of City Center’s Encores) and find nothing terribly off putting about the experience, it can in fact, even be exhilarating, deluding me into feeling as if I am part of the experience.  What was particularly off putting about yesterday’s performance was that on top of being a very difficult show (technically) it was also a brand-new show.  What specific brand of arrogance drives the creative team to not engage in out of town tryouts?  I’ll never know.
I have not seen the movie upon which this musical is based.  I’m not sure that should be a precursor for seeing a show anyway.  I did not enter the theatre with any of my usual “book” fatigue, derived from recent movie-to-show productions or television-to-movie productions (really? have all the writers been swept away by evil aliens?)  I entered the clumsy yet beautiful Belasco theatre, knowing I was in for an adventure and having zero expectations.
Let it be said straightaway, that an opportunity to see Miss Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and (even an under utilized) De’Adre Aziza even sitting on a stool and talking about what they have loved and loss and wore, would get me to the theatre.  As completely crazy as Women on the Verge is (and it is) I feel I got my $50 worth just with Patti singing on a bare stage wearing nothing but a little black dress and with Laura running across the stage in her underwear (during a technical glitch) stage whispering to the audience “everything’s
gonna be fine.”  Priceless.
But the show?  Do I start with the obvious; the absurd Spanish accents yet utter lack of Latinos in any of the leads?  Do I mention the miscasting of Brian Stokes Mitchell, or perhaps the mis-writing of his character?  How about the superfluous constant moving of huge scenery and scene-ettes that do nothing to move the story?  Then there are the gratuitous scenes (so many of them) that reek of an unchecked ego.  (All that was needed was a no-man on the creative team.)  There is a cab (driven by the wonderful Danny Burstein) that simply must be stopped.  It is awkward, cumbersome and does nothing except make ridiculous amounts of noise.  Speaking of noise; the sets are really really loud!
The sound is completely off on the show, but I’ve no doubt that will be ironed out in time.  You know it’s bad when Patti can’t be heard over the orchestra!  The orchestra is divine, by the way, and it was wonderful to hear an overture (no matter how truncated.)  The voices are all dreamy too, as is the not very memorable music.  The lyrics themselves?  Eh.  The songs and structure of the show are very formulaic.  Everything in between is nuts though.  Speaking of which, I can’t help but wonder about the expression on the face of the insurance underwriter when he/she discovered that his female leads would be dangled from harnesses, swinging on pool toys.  Miss Benanti has a history of very serious neck injury, and Miss LuPone is a national treasure.  Was that visual effect (used twice) really worth the risk?  And what did it mean anyway?  Speaking of risk; what’s with the large incredibly stinky fire that is lit on stage?  Excessive and scary in such a technically awkward show, not to mention a serious liability for anyone in the audience with breathing difficulties.  I couldn’t help but think, while watching some of these gimmicks, that a 14 year old boy had staged this show.
I’m still not entirely sure what the story was/is.  The characters aren’t given much room to develop and the transitions to songs which ostensibly are to move the story forward, simply don’t exist.  I don’t mind that there isn’t much of a story and the action is confusing.  I really don’t.  I mind laziness and arrogance and weird out of context dance numbers.
All that said, I would see it again.  When would I ever again have the chance to see Sheri Renee Scott, Patti, Laura, De”Adre belt out (even a middling number) together?

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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